Written by Manase Lua, Disability and Pacific Workforce Manager, Te Pou O Te Whakaaro Nui
“E kore au e ngaro, he kākano i ruia mai i Rangiātea. I will never be lost, for I am a seed sown in Rangiātea.”
For a seed to grow it needs four things: sunlight, air, water and fenua or earth (nutrients). This mixture of elements can transform a tiny seed into a giant and majestic kauri tree. As the ancient Māori proverb above indicates, the seed that was sown in the Pacific on Rangiātea, was also planted here in Aotearoa. This is a metaphor indicating to me, our close genealogical links as People of Te Moana Nui a Kiwa with the Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa.
As I was preparing for the trip, it suddenly dawned on me that despite many trips to the Far North and having lived in Kaikohe as a “child of the Dawn Raids”, I had never thought to stop and see Tāne Mahuta, the great Lord of the Forest. To be honest, I didn’t really know much about it and used to think it was just another tree and kept driving on. As our bus snaked and weaved its way Northward, we stopped at Waipoua forest. Still a little indifferent, I sauntered over to the side of the road then clambered over a small elevated grassy area, just opposite the entrance to the pathway. I could see even from that distance, the top of his majestic crown piercing the forest canopy. A little sparse in foliage in places but leaves gently shivering in the sun from the slight breeze.
We took our shoes off as instructed by our Kaiako, as we stood on the moist grass, anchoring ourselves to the fenua. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a small mobile coffee stand run by some Polynesians and within earshot I could hear laughter. That was a “Pacific” laugh I thought, turns out they were Samoans. Those seeds from Rangiātea sure get around! Man, we are everywhere! But are we flourishing? Is the soil fertile? What is causing some of our issues relating to poverty, high incarceration rates, poor health, low education achievement, poor housing and many more? Where are all the Tāne Mahuta leaders in our forests or have we cut them all down before they can even extend beyond a seedling? Will Matua Shane Jones grow more? Is there a Pasifika Dieback pathogen in the soil here? These were some of the thoughts colliding around in my head.
Some of us decided to walk barefoot on the path to the site. What looked like a small stream nearby indicated good water in the area. After a short walk, we arrived at the viewing platform. Then we all looked up and there was utter silence. I mean, not even a bird chirping. Even the air seemed to be holding its breath. In fact, our group of twenty odd was soon accompanied by other visitors, and because we were all silent they too looked on in silence. We were in awe at the sheer size and majesty of Tāne Mahuta. It was indeed a spiritual moment, and for me, this could not have been a better way to start our Fenua journey. Poignant. Rich. Dense in metaphor. This tree embodied all the videos, readings and learning before and to follow. Even the beautifully carved pou inside the Whare Nui we stayed in on Kohewhata Marae, the many powerful stories and historical insights we heard from the fantastic hosts and guests, the tokotoko wielded by the Kaumatua and the huge waka we saw at Waitangi... All was revealed under this tree. Tāne Mahuta had replaced the Pacific ironwood, vesi, niu and the banyan tree for me. This is the New World, to be reborn out of a new Fenua.
Once I got over the initial sensation of wonder. I noticed that the ravages of time have indeed impacted on this mighty being. He is shedding foliage, looks a little bit paler compared to other trees around him and although hard to imagine, he is vulnerable and in a precarious position due to some mysterious tiny pathogens called Kauri Dieback. Having to brush and spray chemicals on our shoes and feet before and after indicated something is very wrong with the soil or earth (Fenua) feeding this titan of the forest and his many children now. I thought to myself, this is an apt symbol for the impact of colonisation on indigenous communities and our own impact on the environment. Something, one of my Mana Moana colleagues and staunch environmentalist shared with our group. The next two days only reinforced my views further.
Our Marae hosts were fantastic! The aroha was palpable and the wairua we felt only reinforced our shared whakapapa from the Pacific. Sharing lodgings, laughter, music, food and korero with my Mana Moana whānau was a great experience. A little bit awkward at times, for cultural reasons but we have found ways to overcome these because we are all very close and share a unique bond. The Experience has helped us all ease out of our shells and sometimes, bare our souls. These sessions can be both uplifting, confronting, challenging and even painful. But the catharses in releasing and sharing cannot be overstated. I must say, this takes you out of your comfort zone, but because of the trust and respect we all have for each other, it’s all good!
We visited Tokareireia Mountain and learned some of the rich history of Kaikohe and its many Chiefs. Ngāwhā Springs were divine! The local Kaumatua host at the Marae explained to us the meaning of Kaikohe a reference to the many Kohekohe trees in the area. He also shared some of the rich local stories and histories with us, further grounding us to the fenua. Our two guest speakers Whaea Moe Milne and Professor Moana Jackson were superb. Moe shared many inspiring stories and anecdotes with us and some of her leadership learnings and challenges. We felt uplifted. Professor Jackson joined us after our tour of the Waitangi Treaty grounds. Suffice to say that his wisdom and powerful messages resonated with us. We were especially moved by a tragic story he shared with us of his grandfather and the destruction of a very valuable taonga and ancestor, by people who had no idea of its value. There was hardly a dry eye in the room.
Finally… what I learned and put into my baskets of knowledge from this retreat, was so abundant, that I have had to share it or it will spoil. Not in the sneaky way of my Tongan ancestors as per the well-worn proverb “pikipiki hama kae vaevae manava – let’s pull up our canoes together and link outriggers to share provisions” after all, you can’t see what else is in the other canoe when you hold onto the outriggers. But I choose the “pikipiki katea kae vaevae melenga – lets link our main hulls and share everything right to the scraps!” You see what’s in my canoe, I see what’s in yours. This is the true spirit that should have been deployed when the Treaty was signed.
Long live Tāne Mahuta!
Leveleva e malanga kau tatau atu
Pakilau o Aotearoa